[Armenian News note: the below is translated from Russian]
Mzia Paresishvili has reported on the bust of an ethnic Armenian fighter, who fought against Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh, which caused a sharp reaction in Azerbaijan. Paresishvili quotes the reactions by the sides, describing how the bust was opened in the village. The following is the text of Mzia Paresishvili's report published on the website of Ekho Kavkaza, Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe's Russian-language Caucasus service on 25 January headlined "Bust of Mikhail Avagyan in Javakheti: Baku demanding explanations"; subheadings inserted editorially:
Ali Babayev, the chairman of the Congress of Azerbaijanis in Georgia, has described as a provocation the opening of a monument to a participant in Karabakh war [in Azerbaijan's breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh], Mikhail Avagyan, in the Javakheti [region predominantly populated by ethnic Armenians]. The [opening] ceremony was held in the [ethnic] Armenian-populated village of Bughasheni of Akhalkalaki District. Baku has already sent a note of protest to Tbilisi.
Bust to Karabakh fighter erected in Georgian village
The bust of Mikhail Avagyan, a native of the Bughasheni village of Akhalkalaki District, that was renovated and erected in the village on 20 January has become notorious. The event in Bughashei, which has a population of about 500 people, coincided with the opening of a play area for children, the local Jnews Internet edition reported.
"Mikhail Avagyan was born in the village of Bughasheni. Having studied eight years in the village school, he continued his studies at the technical school in the town of Hrazdan in Armenia. Having served in the army, he attended the Interior Ministry school in Sverdlovsk [Russia] and then worked in Interior Ministry structures in Abkhazia. Then he moved to the village of Sarnaghbyur in Armenia [the village is in Nagorno-Karabakh], where he got married. When the war in Nagorno-Karabakh started, Mikhail Avagyan participated in military operations in Horadis [Horadiz], Xocali, Hadrut, and Fuzuli and was known under his soldier name Cobra. He spoke Azerbaijani, which helped him in reconnaissance activities. A sniper wounded him during the battles for the Horadiz bridge and he died on his way to hospital," the author of the article [in Jnews], Kristine Marabyan, said in a brief biography of Avagyan.
Akhalkalaki Mayor Yurik Unanyan and Council Chairman Nairi Iritsyan attended the solemn event as well as members of the [Georgian] Parliament, Henzel Mkoyan and Samvel Manukyan of the [ruling] Georgian Dream [party], and Armenian Ambassador to Georgia Ruben Sadoyan.
The Azerbaijani media have not failed to notice the opening of the bust. "A monument to the Xocali executioner erected in Georgia!" the Internet edition Media.az reported. It was also noted that the monument to the participant in the Karabakh war was erected on 20 January, day of national sorrow in Azerbaijan. Soviet troops were introduced in the Azerbaijani capital on that day in 1990. More than a hundred civilians were killed and 700 were wounded in clashes.
Georgian Ambassador to Azerbaijan Zurab Pataradze had to give explanations in this connection. He was summoned to the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry and they demanded that he react immediately. Ali Babayev, the head of the Congress of Azerbaijanis in Georgia, urged today the Georgian government to do the same.
"Government agencies should carry out a serious investigation into this problem in order to find out, who allowed erecting this monument. I think that the government has nothing to do with this. This is a provocation against the government."
However, it became clear that there has been no permission. This bust was erected in Bughasheni back in the 1990s. However, there is a backstory that Maia Ivelashvili, the local correspondent of the Georgian service of Radio Liberty, has to tell. She said that various events are often held in Armenian villages of Samtskhe-Javakheti in winter. Local people call this period "return from virgin land", which usually falls on January and February, when local people, who left for earnings, return to their native places and according to the tradition, make attempts to contribute to the improvement of their villages, repairing a school or road, or eternalising the memory of a fellow villager. Of course, this becomes a festive event.
"Gagik Avagyan, a relative of Mikhail Avagyan, did the same. He built a play area for children in the village and, as they say, renovated the damaged bust. The family of the deceased has not lived in Javakheti for quite some time now and Gagik Avagyan himself has lived in Ukraine for many years. He has a business there, but since he grew up in Bughasheni, he had the desire to help the village. All this was done on a voluntary basis, as MP Henzel Mkoyan told me. He flatly denied reports that Avagyan fought in Abkhazia against Georgia. At the same time, there is no one else, who could confirm that this information is true," Maia Ivelashvili said.
She also said that MP Henzel Mkoyan regards the scandal that has erupted as a purposeful provocation. He attended the opening of Avagyan's bust in 1997 and, as he said, there was no such agitation at that time. As regards the local officials, who attended the opening of the bust, they are justifying themselves, saying that local residents invited them to the opening of a park and the latter organised the event themselves.
"Council Chairman Nairi Iritsyan noted in a fit of anger that he did know that there was such a bust in the village, but he learned who it was devoted to only now, after the scandal," Maia Ivelashvili noted.
Georgian Foreign Ministry urges 'not to raise stir'
The Georgian Foreign Ministry made a statement, urging not to raise a stir around the bust, confirming reports on the meetings of ambassadors in Tbilisi and Baku.
"Azerbaijan is Georgia's strategic partner and there are no issues between us, which we do not discuss. This is a usual form of relations and it is not necessary to raise a stir around this problem."